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70 brush strokes for the master painter, art administrator

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Kolode Oshinowo


When various organisations and institutions, including Lagos State Government, roll out the drums for master painter, Kolade Oshinowo at 70, a symbol of excellence in studio and academic practices would be celebrated. Oshinowo is one of the highly revered professionals in Nigerian art circle, home and abroad. His art and period of practice represent the bridge that links Nigerian modernists with contemporary artists.

As art teacher and administrator at Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), Lagos, Oshinowo was well known for raising the standard in managing the institution’s School of Art, Design and Printing (SADP). Also, his prolificity in producing timeless paintings despite the challenge of his commitment to the academia has found a space in Nigerian art documentation. He retired from the academia in 2008 as
Chief Lecturer, SADP. Oshinowo is a recipient of Nigeria’s National Productivity Order of Merit (NPOM) award.

Between 2008 – after his retirement from the academia – till date, Oshinowo has found a broader scope of artistic expression. He has shown his works at solo exhibitions nearly every two years, as well as participated in quite a number of group shows, home and abroad. For example, he showed Silhouette at Nike Art Centre, Lekki, in 2012, Changing Times at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, in 2016 as well as several group exhibitions organised by the Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) in London and Lagos.

Bestriding the spaces of academic and studio practice is no doubt a strong identity for Oshinowo among his colleagues. And outside of the academic environment, he is among the living legends of Nigerian artists to beat. At 70 and in full-time studio practice, the ovation is loudest for Oshinowo, so confirmed the list of organisations that have lined up to participate in this septuagenarian celebration. Lagos State Government, Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), YABATECH, Department of Creative Arts at University of Lagos (UNILAG), Nigerian Society for Education through Arts (NSEA), Cultural and Creative Arts Foundation (CCAF), GFA, Women and Youth Arts Foundation (WYArt), Agufon Publication, Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN), Mydrim Gallery, Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF) and Phephe Planet Productions, according to a preview, are joint organisers of the 70th anniversary of Oshinowo.

While announcing the over one-month long line up of events, Chairman, ‘Kolade Oshinowo 70th Planning Committee,’ Dr Kunle Adeyemi described the celebrant as a master, who “touched lives of many artists both at academic and studio.” Adeyemi, who is Chief Lecturer and Dean at SADP of YABATECH and a former student of Oshinowo, argued that his master’s “contribution to Nigerian art is legion.”

Line up for Oshinowo at 70 starts with a workshop by WYArt, from February 5-7 in Surulere, Lagos. A documentary art project, Living Legends by Olu Ajayi Studio comes up next as Kolade Oshinowo: Life Before the Artists at Yabatech on February 8. A select number of artists will, in the tradition of the Living Legend project, do portraits of Oshinowo in drawings, paintings and sculptures. The celebration continues on February 9 with ‘Art Stampede in honour of Kolade Oshninowo’ at Art complex Yabatech, followed by his solo exhibition on February 10 at Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi, showing his new works.

The SNA Lagos’ week celebrates him from February 16 – 23, still at Yabbatech just as another Living Legend: A Tribute to Kolade Oshnowo, an exhibition by SADP is scheduled for 23 of the same month at Yusuf Grillo Gallery at Yabatech.Given the network of the celebrant, an international gathering ‘Who is Kolade Oshinowo?’ from April 4-6 holds to unravel the artist behind the canvas. “Select collectors will discuss Oshinowo’s work,” Adeyemi stated. At the same event, the artist, according to Adeyemi, will be honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at a gala night to be organised by SNA.

Ahead of the events, artists and members of the planning committee have quite something to describe the celebrant, whose brush strokes create pictures that speak more volume than a thousand words. Dr Ademola Azeez, chairman international conference committee, Bunmi Davies, publisher of Agufon, Dotun Alabi, Chairman, Lagos SNA, Stella Awoh, representative of FADAN, Oliver Enwonwu, President of Society of Nigerian Artists, Head of Department, SADP, Mrs Ndubuisi, Head of Department, SADP, and Bimbo Adenugba, Soctal Secretary of GFA, among others spoke at the preview.

Elated by the volume of activities lined up for his 70th anniversary, Oshinowo questioned the spread of interests shown in him. “I don’t know why I deserve so much attention despite my simple life.” He shared a brief of his journey: “I came here as a 25 year-old in 1974.” He recalled how Grillo inspired him to come to Yabatech. “In fact, he escorted me here in April of 1974 to be a full time lecturer after I left King’s College.” But at 60, he quit the academia, “when my students were becoming HODs.”

Oshinowo’s story as an artist is not different from that of most professionals in the arts. “My old man sent me out of his house for my insisting on being an artist. But this is the result of my disobedience.” Contrary to his old man’s fear of failure, he lived to see his son excel as an artist.
“My father believed in medicine and engineering but tolerated law.” Oshinowo recalls. “He kept moving me from one school to another until he moved me into a school that, coincidentally, had art studio.”

Oshinowo would be grateful to two individuals:
“My sister who accommodated me after my father threw me out,” and the banker, who inspired him to go for formal training in art. While working at a bank, “I was busy drawing customers.” And when the branch manager, Mr. Banjoko noticed “that Oshinowo had turned his work place to an art studio,” his boss, he recalls, summoned him to his office. Contrary to his fears of being admonished, his boss asked him about his future plan. “Twice I said Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAN) and institute of bankers.” But he noticed dissatisfaction on his boss’ face. But when “I said art,” Mr. Banjoko was then “satisfied!”

If retirement becomes nightmares for some people, Oshinowo has a different story to tell: “The beauty of my retirement is that I retire into something. The joy of waking up and doing something in the studio is enough,” he enthused.When he retired at 60 in 2008, Oshinowo showed Memories, a strictly drawings exhibition at Yusuf Grillo Gallery, SADP. The exhibition was meant to redirect the larger community of art in what Oshinowo noted then as declining interest in draughtsmanship. And now at 70, what would he like to be remembered for? “In 2008, I was worried about drawing standard dropping; so, I emphasised on it and showed Memories.”

He recalled how his drawings were the assets he had to gain admission into Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. He argued that being able to draw very well should be a capital or assets as an artist, noting that “the coming of digital camera makes young artists less conceptual.” His desire at 70, he insisted, “is still drawing.” At the Memories exhibition, the drawings were 60 collections from 1970 through 2007.

Several times Oshinowo had represented Nigeria during international fora. Two of such events were the International Open Air Painting Workshop in
Bozhentsi, Bulgaria, organised by the City of Gabrovo and the Bulgarian Government as well as the International Exhibition of Arts and Crafts in UNESCO, Paris.

A future master in Oshinowo was actually exposed in 1966 when, as a student at Ibadan Grammar School, he won an international award. It was called Red Star Award at All African Schools Painting Competition, held in Tanzania.

Outside his studio practice, Oshinowo’s contributions to his professional association, SNA, would not go unrecorded by art historians. In fact, he was a member of the executive that rescued the association from the verge of falling apart. Twice, the SNA had been in turbulent periods. The late 1980s through early 1990s were recorded as the most turbulent for the SNA. It took the emergence of dele jegede as the president in 1989 to 1992, via what can be called a ‘coup’ to rescue the group. In 2005, again, another ‘rescue mission’ came with the Oshnowo-led executive.

As president of SNA in 2005 through 2007, Oshinowo, who was Assistant Secretary-General of the association in 1974 and National Secretary (1975-1980), led what seemed to be the most active period of SNA till date.The first art exhibition organised by his administration titled Rejuvenation, shortly after taking over the mantle of leadership in 2005, led to other SNA-organised shows in other parts of the country. Among such exhibitions were those in Umuahia, Abia State, Uyo, Akwa Ibom, and Abeokuta in Ogun State.

It’s also on record that the Oshinowo-led SNA was among those that intervened to make Bayelsa State Government reverse its position in undermining art education in the state’s schools in 2007. Years after he left the leadership of SNA, Oshinowo, he has advice for members regarding the future of the professional body: “There should be more commitment and willingness to serve honestly and selflessly. Individual successes will definitely not build the SNA.”

Currently a member of Lagos State Committee on Art, Oshinowo was in 1974 elected as a member of the Visual Arts Sub-Committee of Nigeria’s Participation at FESTAC ‘77.As an artist whose canvas is known to celebrate the colourful environment of Nigeria in its social and ethnic diversity, the country’s recent sliding into panic state of insecurity attracts Oshinowo’s brush strokes in his last solo art exhibition. The exhibition titled Changing Times, shown at Terra Kulture, expands the artist’s passion in the area of representational form, particularly when it comes to documenting events. But Oshinowo sacrifices his growing interest in fabric-collage on canvas for what he considered one of the most crucial periods in Nigeria’s nationhood challenges.

With recurring violence and impunity in the country, which the artist said “could melt even stone of heart,” such exhibition was important “to change my theme.”From the activities of the terror group, Boko Haram, to the unprecedented feverish build-up towards general elections of 2015 as well as the resurgence of Niger Delta militants and the brazenness of kidnappers, Oshinowo’s canvas takes a visual narrative of Nigeria’s challenges within the context of a country being violated from all fronts.

While the visualisation of Sambisa forest – a vast landmass that spreads across five states – which hosts the world’s most-priced captives (abducted Chibok Schoolgirls in April 2014) could be imagined in diverse picturisation by as many as millions of people who have expressed empathy, but a simple, perhaps, common kind as depicted by Oshinowo still sends a chill through the vein. Titled Cries From Sambisa, in acrylic and oil, the high headroom composition above the cluster of girls placed almost at the bottom of the canvas generates a strong effect of deep isolation. Adding to the isolation-effect are huge trees of deep green colour in looming formation. But the scene is not without a hope: rays of light from the distance slightly beam onto the spot where the girls are held.

Still on the tragic effect of the Boko Haram oddity, Oshinowo’s brushes travel through the plight of IDPs. Such works include ‘Internally Displaced People II,’ a mix of victims across age groups and ‘Internally Displaced Children’ in three-figure portrait of children. The children’s portrait perhaps represents the fact that the IDPs are also outside the northeast, and even come down south to as far as Lagos.

For an artist who cherishes the basics of art such as drawing, the works are not without a few of such depictions. Among the drawings, monochrome in coffee-colour is a spiritual solution to the Chibok girls’ crisis. Titled ‘Prayer for Chibok Girls,’ the work that depicts a girl in praying mood also stresses the beauty of good draughtsmanship.

Interestingly, ‘Changing Times’ represents Oshinowo’s experimentation with fabric on canvas. In 2012, Oshinowo, for the first time, showed works that were mostly populated in canvas of collage fabrics in his solo show titled Silhouette at Nike Gallery, Lekki, Lagos. Synonymous with figural and fashion themes, the fabric collage appeared inappropriate for the artist’s choice of thematic focus three years after. Born as Kolade Adekunle Oshinowo on February 6, 1948, he studied Fine Art at ABU from 1968-1972.


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Kolode Oshinowo
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